General Advice Warning. The information on Dad Mode is intended to be general in nature and is not personal financial or product advice.

Picture this.

Nine-year-old me, at the bottom of a flight of stairs, begging my dad to take me home. I wanted desperately to hide under my covers and not have to face the atrocities that were sure to devastate me if I stayed.

I was scared.

In my mind, the unimaginable horrors that waited for me that afternoon after school were just too much to bear. My skin crawled at the thought of taking those steps, I would surely die…

I was a bit dramatic back then.

Anyway, after my first Karate class was over I felt a lot better (Yeh, that was it…).
But that didn’t stop me from being terrified every subsequent afternoon when that squeaky door would open and the smell of stale sweat, wafted up my nostrils.

You see, I had anxiety. Still do.

But when I was a kid, it was almost debilitating. I felt nervous before doing anything, even mundane, day to day tasks would give me butterflies.

Every day life was difficult.

Ironically, it was that very Karate class that taught me how to not only cope in the real world, but to have the confidence to willingly put myself out there. Nine-year-old me would be shocked.

I went to Karate classes for the next 18 years, and in that time I competed internationally, taught students in Australia and India and grew into a confident man. I learnt that I could, in fact, handle tough situations and come out ok. I could answer the phone confidently and even give people bad news without worrying about the consequences. Go me!

But how did I get there?

The problem with mental health advice

Its common advice that you should start a sport or get out of your (tiny in my case) comfort zone to help your anxiety. This is great, valid advice. However, it’s vague and doesn’t give you any real tools to cope in anxiety inducing situations.

‘Just do it’ is a great brand slogan, but shit advice for someone with anxiety.

All I can picture is someone white knuckling their way through addiction, or just trying to be ‘happy’ when they have depression. The destination is clear, but the tools you need to get there, aren’t.

Willing yourself to do something without practical tools is almost impossible.

However, I’m here to tell you that there is something you can do that will instantly make you feel more confident and less anxious.

Get someone else to do your dirty work for you

Ok, I’m not saying that a nine-year-old had dirty work to do, but it sounds good, so I’m going for it.

Stick with me.

In karate, you wear a suit called a Dogi. It’s white and looks a bit like pyjamas. Over the top you wear your Obi or belt and depending on what rank you are, it can be different colours.

Fun fact, in feudal Japan, the reason that the higher ranking Karateka (Karate Students) had black belts was because they got so dirty over the years they eventually turned black. This is also why it’s tradition to not wash your belt today, you want to avoid washing all of that wisdom out!

What does this have to do with anxiety?

When I wrap my Obi around my waist I feel powerful, calm, in control and ready. There’s nothing I can’t do.

The simple act of changing my clothes was enough to lift me out of my anxious rut and give me the confidence I lacked my whole life.

The difference it made was incredible.

The problem was, when I went back out into the ‘real’ world, I would take my gear off, and it would be business as usual. Back to feeling like a small, anxious mess again.

I used to think to myself. ‘Why can’t I feel like this all the time, not just in the dojo’.

I would look silly wearing my full outfit in the street, so that’s out. Could I conjure up that person I was in the dojo like some kind of black belt Harry Potter and call on those feelings whenever I need to?

Turns out I could.

Ok, so how do you actually do it?

Let’s cut to the chase.

Whenever I feel myself getting anxious. Either from a difficult situation I’m in, or there is something I have to do that scares me, I picture myself putting on my karate uniform and belt. I take a breath and all of a sudden, I’m transformed into the powerful person I am in the dojo. That guy can do anything.

Let’s break it down.

  1. Think of the version of yourself that would be comfortable in the situation that scares you. In my case, it’s me in my karate uniform. If that’s a little difficult, you can picture someone else, someone that you think will handle that situation well. It might also help to give your new persona a name. Mine was Jack.
  2. Then I want you to take a deep breath and take one big step forward, imagining you are stepping in to your new avatar like you’re Tony Start stepping into his Iron Man suit. Dope.
  3. Something helpful is having a trigger to help you get in the right mindset, mine was imagining I’m tying my Obi.
  4. et your avatar take over and go about your business like a boss

This will take some practice, and you should try it in some easy situations first.

Do I have to pretend I’m someone else my whole life?

Although sadly many people do, (more on this in another post), It doesn’t have to be that way.

The more you practice, the easier it will get, until eventually, you will start to feel more confident in yourself and no longer have to call upon your Avatar. After a few months, I was able to face situations that I had never dreamed of before. I became the person I was calling upon.

Although my anxiety may never go away, I’ve taken back control of my life and moved closer to the person I aspire to be.

If only that little boy could see me now…

Give it a try next time you’re at work or with a group of friends, you may be surprised by the person you become.

Cya In the next one x